What Was Megalodon’s Life Like? | Encyclopaedia Britannica


The creature’s full scientific
name is Carcharocles megalodon. “Megalodon” means simply, “giant
tooth,” derived from Greek. Fossil evidence of the megalodon
occurs most often as giant shark teeth. Adult megalodon teeth may
be as big as one’s palm. Some are even larger. Fossils suggest that megalodons lived in
tropical and temperate oceans worldwide. The megalodon is often compared
to the great white shark, but both species have descended along
different, albeit closely related lineages. Sharks are known for their
stability through evolution. And so, scientists believe that a day in a
megalodon’s life would resemble that of other top predator sharks. Here, the Isthmus of Panama – the land that
would connect North America with South America – has not yet emerged from the ocean. A female megalodon surveys the area. She’s pregnant. She came here to give birth. While we don’t know for how long, her
pregnancy could have taken over a year. As some other large sharks do today, the
mother shark gives birth to live young. The mother shark is truly
giant, about the size of a bus. And so these infant sharks are similarly big,
about 2 meters or more from nose to tail. The mother may stay near her young, but
her actions may not be about mothering. Instead, she’s more about defending an
area she may have used as a feeding ground. Hammerhead sharks feed here, too. And so, as she keeps territory
for herself, she also keeps her babies safe from the hammerheads. Even at birth, the infant sharks are formidable. They’ll prey on smaller fish, mollusks, and
on small marine mammals if they’re present. The mother, however, seeks larger prey. She is easily capable of
killing sizeable marine mammals, like whales, because she is
far bigger than they are. Tooth marks on fossil whale bones
indicate deep megalodon bites. The female bites and then shakes her prey. The serrated edges of her teeth cut
heavy flesh like giant steak knives. If megalodons behaved like
other large predatory sharks, her male mate likely remained
apart and independent. While he is still larger than the
great white sharks we know today, he is only about half the female’s size. Among megalodons, if sheer size
was any indication, females rule. The cycle of mating, birth, and hunting
continued in these shallow seas until about 2.6 million years ago. In the time of the megalodons,
continents drifted together. Sea currents and sea levels changed. The abundance of prey rose and
fell throughout megalodon’s reign. But as the Pliocene epoch went on, sharks
became more competitive, possibly even quicker and more agile. These factors, and perhaps others,
spelled the end of the megalodon. Why is there so little material
evidence of megalodons today? Well, they were sharks, and all
sharks are cartilaginous fish. Megalodon skeletons had few hard
bones, and were mostly cartilage. A dinosaur leaves bones when it dies. Bones enable one to estimate a
body’s size, structure and function. But since sharks’ skeletons
are almost totally cartilage, and cartilage decomposes easily after death,
almost nothing of a megalodon is left behind. Shark teeth, however, fossilize easily. So scientists use fossil megalodon teeth to
estimate other details about the animals. The enormous size of megalodon teeth,
compared to teeth of living sharks, is a significant reason why scientists
think the megalodon was so large. But fossil teeth paint an incomplete
picture of this magnificent animal, and the scarcity of other hard evidence
continues to challenge scientists. For now, some ideas about the megalodon are
based on assumptions of how it could have resembled today’s sharks in
form, ecology, and behavior.

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